President Clinton and other U.S. officials have warned that “rogue states” pose a major threat to international peace in the post-Cold War era. But what exactly is a rogue state? Does the concept foster a sound approach to foreign policy, or is it, in the end, no more than a counterproductive political epithet? Robert Litwak traces the origins and development of rogue state policy and then assesses its efficacy through detailed case studies of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. He shows that the policy is politically selective, inhibits the ability of U.S. policymakers to adapt to changed conditions, and has been rejected by the United States’ major allies. Litwak concludes that by lumping and demonizing a disparate group of countries, the rogue state approach obscures understanding and distorts policymaking. In place of a generic and constricting strategy, he argues for the development of “differentiated” strategies of containment, tailored to the particular circumstances within individual states.

Robert S. Litwak is director of the Division of International Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He served on the National Security Council staff as director for nonproliferation and export controls.



1. The Post-Cold War Context

2. U.S. Strategy toward Rogue States (1): Origins and Development

3. U.S. Strategy toward Rogue States (2): Assessment and Alternatives


4. Iraq: Containing Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War

5. Iran: Revolutionary State or Ready to Rejoin the “Family of Nations”?

6. North Korea: Limited Engagement by Necessity



“So-called rogue states are the subject of a great deal of fuzzy thinking in U.S. foreign policy decision making, and Litwak sets out to promote a more nuanced and sophisticated foreign policy strategy.… In addition to the excellent analytical framework, Litwak provides three detailed case studies—Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.… This book is a must read for analysts, policy makers, and students.”—James M. Goldgeier, Political Science Quarterly

“Litwak’s conclusions about the dichotomous nature of the American foreign policy debate have important implications for the conduct of American foreign policy.”—Jean A. Garrison, Journal of Politics

“A thoughtful and important contribution.”—Virginia Quarterly Review

“A careful and thorough account.”—Gordon L. Shull, Perspectives on Political Science

“Fortunately, this sensible book (which should be required reading for all Foreign Service personnel and U.S. policymakers) constitutes a good ‘prism’ in its own right for examining the flaws of current U.S. policy, and offers a better framework for the future.”—Harry C. Blaney III, Foreign Service Journal

“[A] thoughtful critique of US foreign policy.… well researched and structured.”—Choice

“This is a first-rate study that brings scholarly analysis to bear on a very important problem in U.S. foreign policy. Litwak’s incisive critique of the use of the ‘rogue’ label for political ‘mobilization’ purposes is right on the mark.”—Alexander George, Stanford University

“Litwak’s examination of U.S. policy toward ‘rogue states’ raises the right questions regarding a truly complex and yet very timely subject. It skillfully avoids some of the simplifications that have dominated the public discourse on this vital subject.”—Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser